Every nonprofit wants a Beverly Tatum – a volunteer who sees a need and quietly fills it, again and again.
Tatum has adopted the Community Shelter of Union County’s Home Again program, providing complete household supplies to single men, women and families moving from their short residence at the shelter back into independent living.
“When I found out about the Home Again program, I was really excited because I think many people marginalize homeless people,” Tatum said. “Here’s the shelter, giving people a chance to start over … to regain an independent life in a home of their own.”
Home Again, a part of the rehousing mission of the shelter, provides second-hand furniture donated by the public plus household supplies at no cost to many residents moving from the emergency shelter. More than half need furniture and supplies to set up a new residence as most arrive at the shelter with minimal belongings.
While living temporarily at the shelter, residents work on life issues such as health, employment, housing and finances, saving enough money to start over with the shelter providing subsidies as needed for rent, utility and move-in costs.
“Imagine trying to save enough money to purchase furniture and all the start-up supplies,” CEO Melissa McKeown said. “Because of Home Again, residents can move into their own home much quicker.”
Tatum doesn’t provide furniture, but she does provide almost everything else that a small apartment needs. In the kitchen, it’s pots and pans, plus dishes, silverware, dish drainer, coffee pot (plus filters and starter coffee.) And it all matches.
In addition, there’s dish soap, towels, mops, sponges, garbage can and bags. “Everything I can think of,” she adds. Including salt and pepper. She is that complete with bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms, too.
Tatum buys items as she sees them.
“Every time I find something, I throw it in a spare bedroom,” she said. “When I have a significant number of things, I start sorting.”
Having supported Home Again for more than five years, Tatum doesn’t need a list of items to buy. She has the list in her head. But in the beginning, it was different.
“I had moved my daughter into her first apartment and remembered all the things we had to buy, and that began my list,” she said. “Then I started expanding on it – it’s second nature now. I know exactly what I need and I’m always looking.”
Tatum supplies at least five apartments a year, which could be quite expensive if you’re not the good shopper that Tatum is. “I look for things on sale and at the dollar stores. That helps a lot.”
She doesn’t pay that much attention to the cost when she’s buying because her experience has taught her what is a good price. “We’re just typical middle class. But now that we’re retired, it’s more important what I spend.”
She and her husband, Frank, spent their careers at IBM. Frank stays out of the way as Beverly is buying, but when it’s time to sort and pack boxes, he pitches in. For sorting, she takes over a second room in her house, making a line of boxes for each room and each apartment.
Tatum says she was drawn to the Home Again program with a spirit of philanthropy she learned from her grandparents.
“I grew up with four grandparents and each, in different ways, had always done things for others through time and money,” she explained. “My grandfather was the founder of Harris Supermarkets, which became Harris-Teeter. He had money and time. I didn’t hear about his philanthropy work until after he died. He didn’t like to be recognized; he just felt it was what you needed to do. By watching my grandparents, I just felt what I call, ‘we’re here to serve.’ It was always in front of me.”
The Community Shelter of Union County provided 27,177 nights of emergency shelter to 493 homeless individuals last year, including 34 families with 79 children. Of those clients, 114 households transitioned back into independent living and 68 households received Home Again furniture and supplies.
If you’d like to get involved with the Home Again program, the shelter has a needs list at www.UnionShelter.org/Needs/.
“I get so much pleasure out of seeing how happy the people are when they move into an apartment and they have new things,” Tatum said. “They feel like someone cares and is rooting for them.”